The SLENZ Update – No 62, March 30, 2009

TIMELINE ‘CLEARER’

Detailed SLENZ ‘plan’ posted

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Joint project leader Terry Neal … working on the timeline.

A detailed plan of the SLENZ Project’s activities over the next few months, based on the variables influencing the second half of the project, has been put together by joint project leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel).

In keeping with the project’s  “communications policy” the plan, developed in  face-to-face workshop discussion, has been posted (as a spreadsheet) on the SLENZ blog by joint project leader Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust).

The plan had been developed with “a much clearer idea of all the variables involved in the second part of the project,” Atkins said.

With only Neal and Atkins having editing rights it is to be updated and republished whenever a change is made so that it will always reflect the current information on the project.

The easiest way to find it is to click on the Project Development TImeline page link on the left of the blog posting or go directly to the page .

The SLENZ Update – No 61, March 29, 2009

How do teachers see education benefits?

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Vimani Gamage … trying to find why teachers ‘like’  or ‘don’t like’ MUVEs.

Masters student in business studies at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand-Aotearoa, Vimani Gamage (SL: Emerly Alter),  has  set herself  the difficult task of establishing  what factors influence teacher acceptance of  multi user virtual environments (MUVEs).

Briefing members of the SLENZ Project team last week she said that she was seeking to establish for her thesis how the known determinants of Technology Acceptance (according to existing TAM-related research) influence the intention of educators to use MUVEs to conduct virtual classes and how educators perceived the potential benefits of educational use of MUVEs as claimed in the literature.

Gamage is using a virtual classroom on Jokayadia within Second Life for her study which will involve the use of a questionaire to explore teacher perceptions.

Although not wanting to compromise  the results of her research in anyway,  I personally believe  the greatest  influence on  teacher perception of the benefits of MUVEs is directly related, initially, to the informal linkages the teachers  form  and the networking they do  on MUVEs like Second Life when they first enter, perhaps to play.

For  early adopters and subsequent promoters of the benefits of MUVEs  for education, I believe,  the major initial influence is “other people” within the world and the virtual society  they become attached/addicted to.

For those teachers who  “only work” in virtual worlds, MUVEs can apparently be a very boring place indeed. One sees them nitpicking on the SLED list and other lists, complaining about the technology or lack thereof, or being  pedantic  about educational theory.

They sometimes forget that MUVEs are fun and should be fun … that is the easiest way to learn … something the earliest adopters discovered and why many of them are still there.

When I consider some of the “reluctant” educators I meet in Second Life I am reminded of a great quote  from the Wizard of “Watchmen” – Alan Moore:  ” All too often education actually acts as a form of aversion therapy, that what we’re really teaching our children is to associate learning with work and to associate work with drudgery so that the remainder of their lives they will possibly never go near a book because they associate books with learning, learning with work and work with drudgery.

“Whereas after a hard day’s toil, instead of relaxing with a book they’ll be much more likely to sit down in front of an undemanding soap opera because this is obviously teaching them nothing, so it is not learning, so it is not work, it is not drudgery, so it must be pleasure. And I think that that is the kind of circuitry that we tend to have imprinted on us because of the education process.”

My great hope is that MUVEs are never viewed like that – by educators or students.

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Vimani’s classroom is worth visiting for the range of educational tools she uses.

The SLENZ Update – No 60, March 29, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT

Mid-project workshop, mid-term progress

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Eyes on the Smartboard … joint project leader Terry Neal (SL Tere Tinkel) and developer Todd
Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker) follow progress on the Smartboard. In the background,
learning designer, Leigh Blackall (SL Leroy Post) and lead educator Merle Lemon
(SL: Briarmelle Quintessa).

A two-day workshop in Wellington  has firmed up the SLENZ Project timeline, sorted niggling build problems and priorities,  as well as signaling the  end of communication problems which appeared to be hindering the early stages of the project.

With stage 1 of the  midwifery pilot to begin operation under the direction of lead educator Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) mid-June and stage 2 mid-July, on-campus tutor/student orientation is due to begin in May. The tutors from the polytechnics involved in the Foundation Learning pilot led by Merle Lemon will begin orientation with a face-to-face meeting in July in preparation for a September/October launch.

Both groups, however, plan to hold a number of “spontaneous” in-world meetings with-in their separate pilot  groups in the lead-up to the formal orientation process and tutor training.   These meetings will also allow them to experience,  in an “avatar hands-on” fashion, the structures/animations created by (and under the supervision) of lead developer Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) and provide grassroots feedback where necessary.

On the communication front it was noted that  joint project leader Dr Clare  Atkins’ (SL: Arwenna Stardust) resolution of team’s communications into the SLENZ Project Development googledocs – as the official working and final documents – with direct access from the SLENZ Update blog  had obviated much of the confusion which has surrounded the previous proliferation of semi-official communication channels. Atkins stressed again the value of each and every member using the googledocs system to update group thinking.

Cochrane also briefed team members on SLOODLE/MOODLE as a useful on-going in-world resource and tool for educators.

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“Foundations” – an initial rough concept sketch of
what is needed for Foundation Learning

The team agreed that as the Project was publicly-funded every effort should be made to ensure all documents were open to the public and/or under Creative Commons License   and that all items  commissioned and built for project should be “full perms”. It was noted that the “basic builds” with full functionality and full perms, once completed,  would be available from a “vendor” for free public usage.

Besides her meeting room build on Kowhai Lemon  is investigating using holodecks for specific interviewing scenarios such as, Police recruiting interviews, hospitality industry recruiting interviews, nursing and teacher interviews. She plans to use roleplay as part of her tutor training as well.

There also was some discussion of the team’s direction once the project has been completed and evaluated by year end.

The final meeting of the SLENZ Project Team is planned for August/September with evaluation of the project planned for October/November.

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Birthing Centre and Foundation Learning centre with Kowhai TP point in foreground

The SLENZ Update – No 59, March 21, 2009

SL training & orientation

Business meetings: a lesson for teachers?

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The experience gained from doing business and holding business meetings in Second Life are sometimes denigrated by academics as not being applicable to the education or learning situation.

However, the recently published IBM case study demonstrated  that  internal meetings  work well within Second Life  while  the work of  Trade Promotion Management Associates (TPMA) has shown  that  even “complete newbies”  from around the world   and a variety of enterprises can have a worthwhile experience on a first time visit to Second Life, if that visit is properly managed.

Amanda Linden, after noting in  her Linden blog that the technical, cultural, and usability challenges faced by the TPMA “brownbag event” had the potential to wreck the  160-avatar/participant Second Life  conference last month,  said it went off without a hitch due largely to the work of Grondstedt Group, TPMA’s in-world partner.

The key to the success? Proper orientation and training.

Grondstedt, Amanda Linden said,  had led all participants – from  manufacturing, retail, and industry analyst firms – through a 30-minute training session and all speakers and exhibitors through a 60-minute training session to ensure that when the conference day arrived, everyone was ready to walk, talk, text chat, and participate in this new virtual event experience.
Her three-question interview with Diane M. Berry (pictured), the CEO of  TPMA, detailed just how valuable  The Gronstedt Group’s  technical experience and know-how, MUVE training, Second Life beach-themed island ownership and  building skills had been.berry-diana-m

The Gronstedt Group, Berry said, had removed all of the technically challenging aspects even though on the non-technical side there was still a lack of knowledge and awareness of Second L ifewhich created a “bit of a hurdle for  speakers and sponsors.

She added, however, that the TPMA meeting had been more productive than any virtual conference that the Vendor Compliance Federation and TPMA had attended or run, including webinars, because “it is such an immersive experience; attendees have the responsibility of responding to their avatar’s surroundings, including other individuals, so there is some “social pressure” to pay attention.

“The entire experience approaches the value of an in-person meeting,” she said, but added, “there really is no substitute for developing relationships through in-person, shared experiences, and I believe these must be mixed into every organisation’s marketing program.”

According to Virtual World News, Gronstedt  estimated the industry savings from the free event  to be more than US$200,000, made up through the elimation of  hotel costs, flights, and other expenses. There also was a considerable time saving involved, despite the need for training.

After holding the IBM Academy of Technology Virtual World Conference and the Annual General Meeting in a secure environment in Second Life, Joanne Martin, president of the academy, said, “The meeting in Second Life was everything that you could do at a traditional conference -and more-at one fifth the cost and without a single case of jet lag.”

The  200 plus IBM participants were offered pre-conference training on the basics of Second Life to make them comfortable communicating and navigating within the environment.

IBM estimated the ROI for the Virtual World Conference was roughly US$320,000 and that the Annual Meeting was executed  at one-fifth the cost of a real world event.
“IBM has been making a significant investment in VWs now for two years. …. it’s time to take it from research to reality, ” Karen Keeter, an IBM marketing executive, said.

But there are risks …

 

Nick Wilson (pictured), of Clever Zebra, has also weighed in on  “why Second Life rocks meetings” but he has also delivered a note of caution about the “very real risks associated with Second Life events and virtual events in general” suggesting ways  one can mitigate virtual worlds risks in “why Second Life sucks for meetings.

Clever Zebra was the first company to hold a large-scale public business event in Second Life and to date is the only group to have successfully run a “tri-reality” event together with IBM and Cornell University.

On the upside, besides slashing meeting budgets,  Wilson lists ease of building, functionality, flexibility and other attractive features of the Second Life meeting environment  which means “putting together elaborate, engaging and highly productive event environments is much, much cheaper than other platforms.”wilsonnick21

But on the downside he suggests everyone planning to hold an event in Second Life  – a meeting or a class – should ask:

  • Are you prepared to have all of your guests logged out of your event, and dumped into a public “welcome area” when they try to log back in? This actually happened to us during a seminar we were giving to paying clients. Needless to say it was not the best experience for anyone.
  • What are you going to do if logins are disabled while engineers try to fix the problem that’s caused all of your guests to be logged out? What if they can’t login for an hour or two, will they come back and participate hours after your scheduled start time?
  • Will your speakers (students/teachers?) busy schedules allow them to hang around waiting for normal service to resume?
  • How will such a disruption reflect on your organisation? Is telling your guests (students/teachers) it’s not your fault good enough?
  • How will such disruption affect the future of your virtual events (classroom?) project?
  • How will it affect your career?

Although directed at business these also are all worthwhile questions for the academic teacher/facilitator. You possibly ignore them at your peril.

 

The SLENZ Update – No 58, March 13, 2009

SL adult content changes

A massive blog over-reaction?

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Sex workers in the Birdcage’s Red Light District

Given the cacaphony of noise  from writers in the world of Second Life, MUVE  and MMORPG blogdom there seems to have been a massive  over-reaction  to the Linden Lab’s attempt to soften the impact of  the porn industry on those who might not care to be hit in the face with adult activities in their virtual playground, education centre or business enterprise.

The Lindens, in their announcement yesterday on the upcoming changes for adult content, basically said (the italics are mine):

“The system we build will have three main features, which we will describe in great detail over the next few months. First, it will provide a way to geographically separate Adult content and activities to a part of the “mainland” designed to accommodate these activities (Estate owners with Adult content on their land will be required to flag their content; they will not be required to move). Second, it will filter search results, so that those who do not wish to see “Adult” results will not. Third, it will require that those who access or see “Adult” content (whether on land or in search) have had their accounts verified – such as by a payment or age verification method.”

While others describe this as a massive change which  will  create “SLamsterdam … silos of sin”  to the “earth moved in Second Life” , “certainly one of the most — perhaps the most — far-reaching and profound set of changes to Second Life since 2003” , “Second Life putting a leash on sex, violence“, “Amsterdammed: Linden Lab to Segregate “Adult” Content in Second Life to Red Light Continent (Real Life ID Required)”,  I see the change as more evolutionary than revolutionary and one that is necessary  if Second Life is to move from cult status to mainstream.It also is necessary if one is not to scare away  your average potential mainstream users such as students/educators/learning facilitators,  normal business enterprises, and ordinary people who are not into Stroker Serpentine’s “tools”, the sex trade,  or the seamier side of furrydom and some of the more wayout kinks of some human avatars.

Core goals

It is obvious from the Linden document that  the organisation does not plan on banning these sort of operations,  just  moving them to a town or country (geographic area within SL)  where they don’t spook the horses any more, or by corralling them. And with fair warning there isn’t likely to be any NIMBY activity. The core goals of this initiative are to improve Second Life for everyone – by giving Residents more control over what they see, and by providing the best available method to make Adult content accessible only to those who adult enough (and who desire to)  to access it.

The Lindens, who have initiated a six-week debate on the issue, said, “We understand this may sound like a major change for some Residents, landowners and merchants. However, we are committed to ensuring that all three of these features are implemented easily and efficiently, so merchants and other landowners will not be disadvantaged, and Residents’ freedom and creativity ultimately will not be impeded.

“We also understand that this effort will hinge on manageable guidelines and definitions. Simply defining “Adult” content is not easy — its definition can vary across different geographic and personal boundaries  … we will introduce guidelines and define what “Adult” means, we will explain how to designate and “flag” this content, we will introduce the “Adult Continent,” and we will implement technical changes to make this process as efficient as we can.”

” We do think this will make Second Life more attractive to all kinds of users, including those focusing on business and education,”  a Linden spokesperson told  Virtual World News. “Fundamentally this is about giving Residents more control over their Second Life experience. For those who want to experience adult content, it will be easier to find. For those who don’t, it will be easy to avoid.”

No “real limitation”

It appears to me from closely reading the Linden document that this will not limit those who confine their adult activities to private islands, private voice or private text:  as in the “real” world of cyber sex they will continue with their activities wherever and whenever no matter what the Lindens decree. For them, I believe, the SL “flesh” trade, the scripted accoutrements, the adult-themed joints, and the explicit animations are no more than an amusing sideshow. Second Life for them is more about introductions/meetings/hooking-up than cartoon sex, as it is for ordinary residents both in MUVEs and in real life.

So although there will be little real change for the majority, except to alleviate the visibility and get rid of the nuisance of  adult-themed sites,  there is obviously going to be a wide-ranging debate over freedoms – the liberterians, anarchists and merchants of free love versus the moral majority (wonder if there is a moral majority or minority in SL) and the fuddy-duddies.

The Lindens move though will probably spike the guns of  anti-internet porn  crusader Mass. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal who is apparently looking for other targets following his success  with Myspace and censorship authorities in countries like Australia who are  enforcing or not enforcing (depending on one’s viewpoint) classifications for MMORPGs among other things.

But, as noted above, in actual fact,  no matter what the Lindens do about  “corralling” adult pursuits in world,  adults will continue to do as they do now even in such innocuous MMORPGs  as The Sims:   make friends,  fall in and out of  love or lust, and make-out in some way.  Give an adult a method of communicating, and he/she, if he/she chooses, will always find  a way to do something more than just communicating.

Not so Welcome areas

As an aside, to go with the latest Linden move one would hope  that the Lindens endulge in a little better policing of the PG -rated Linden welcome areas: that’s where the horses get scared and no doubt many average newbies give the game away.

A quick teleport around  the best-used welcome areas at busy times can be both eye-opening and even eye-watering. They appear to be peopled by many avatars who act like 13-year-old thugs and who use voice and gestures for foul language, uncouth suggestions and general bullying which is tantemount to abuse and griefing.

Perhaps these types can be given their own welcome area in an adult sim, but that would probably defeat their reason for being: too “shock and awe”  the newbs.

I, however,  believe Second Life would be better off without them.

The SLENZ Update – No 57, March 12, 2009

EVENT

“Virtual Worlds – Best Practices

in Education” Conference

March 27-29, 2009 in Second Life. Following considerable  SLED list debate on the “future” of  the SL education conference  – especially, apparently, from those MUVE “believers” who who want a  “real life” gabfest experiences that one travels to –  Pathfinder Linden  has posted an interesting interview with Kevin Feenan (pictured, SL: Phelan Corrimal ), the general chair of the conference, which will be held entirely in Second Life, rather than having a real life base. Taking its lead from a number of previous successful conferences  – the Second Life Best Practices in Education Conference in May 2007, the SLCC07 in Chicago, and the SLEDcc in Tampa in 2008 –  the SLEBPE has been  revived under the banner of Virtual Worlds because of the increase in virtual worlds which successfully cater for education, such as OpenSim, IMVU, Club Penguin, WoW, Wonderland, Entropia etc . For all those who complain about the “closed world, commercial” nature of Second Life – and there are a number –  Feenan has a message. corrimal-phelan He sees the future of the conference being “dictated by the way the educational community uses virtual collaborative environments”. “In the short term, definitely a heavy focus on Second Life,” he said. ” However, as avatars are increasingly able to teleport between virtual worlds I see the conference following those changes and perhaps expanding to bridge knowledge gaps that may develop as other virtual communities get established. And to bring back to this environment (SL) solutions that may not be so evident here because we don’t have to overcome the same challenges to get something to work.” For free registration: http://www.vwbpe.org.

Another new kid

ready to debut …

Sirikata Teaser

Stanford University plans to launch Sirikata, a BSD licensed open source platform for virtual worlds, in alpha release soon. The team behind the project which is being done in conjunction with Intel’s Cable Beach Project aims to provide a set of libraries and protocols which can be used to deploy a virtual world, as well as fully featured sample implementations of services for hosting and deploying these worlds. The video-teaser for the project is fascinating, and shows just where OpenSim technology is going. It appears to show a compelling,  easy-to-use virtual world with realistic avatars and movement. For techies the lengthy discussion  about Intel’s efforts in the open virtual world space and getting outside the “walled garden” scenario  between Intel’s John Hurliman, Stanford’s Ewen Cheslack-Postava, Daniel Horn and Henrik Bennetsen provides an interesting background to the project. .  Besides disclosing that Intel is currently working on connectors for all VW worlds, the conversation ranged from the  technical approach to the work and ended with  more general comments. But at 51 minutes it is long and could have done with considerable editing..

Workshop with Intel’s John Hurliman

There is another video in which Cheslack-Postava and Horn give a briefing on Sirikata which, for techies, also is worthwhile.

Meanwhile Nick Wilson (pictured), over at Clever Zebra, has predicted that open source rather than interoperability will drive  the masses to virtual worlds.wilsonnick2 He lists the top three technologies researchers/educators/businesses should be investigating right now as OpenSim, Wonderland and Open Croquet, with Solipsis and Sirikata waiting in the wings.

The SLENZ Update – No 56, March 11, 2009

THE NEW USER EXPERIENCE

How not to spook

the horses …

clever-zebra-orientation-1Clever Zebra HQ orientation…. how one team does it.

I’ve been an admirer of Caleb Booker for sometime. I religiously read his blog, Caleb Booker – Business in Virtual Worlds (http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/ ). I also follow the activities and the publications of Clever  Zebra (http://cleverzebra.com/).

In a  blog published in mid February Booker (pictured), in real life Chief  Operations Officer at Clever Zebra.  surpassed himself.

For  the SLENZ Project his timing could probably not be better. We are currently looking closely at Orientation.

Asking the question “Does it matter how we bring people into Virtual Worlds?”  he looks at the best and some of the worst Orientation options devised by Second Life experts and looks at the different designs of Orientation for varied users and interests.

The piece, ROI in Virtual Worlds – The New User Experience (http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/2009/02/10/roi-in-virtual-worlds-the-new-user-experience/ ) , part of his ROI in Virtual World series (http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/roi-in-virtual-worlds/ ),   to my mind has inestimable value and should be read by everyone contemplating setting up an Orientation experience whether for teachers or students, businessmen and women or romantics and adventurers.

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To my mind too many  institutions who are new (and sometimes not so new) to Second Life attempt to reinvent the “wheel” rather than improving what has gone before.

Booker at least gives them a definitive view of  where most of the the old “wheels” are, why some work and why some don’t.

He notes in conclusion, “Many orientation spaces go wrong because Second Life itself doesn’t have “a purpose”. It’s so open-ended that many start tossing out whatever instructions they think people will enjoy knowing, without a clear sense of what the priorities should be. Hopefully this will help you avoid that trap.”

The Booker blog is a good starting point for a happy life in Second Life.